Fremantle Dockers veteran Nat Fyfe discusses his interconnected battles with depression, anxiety, injuries and weight loss
A candid Nat Fyfe has revealed how years of physical and mental health issues left him with “no juice and motivation”, writes MARK DUFFIELD.
4 min read
February 11, 2023 - 3:40PM
Nat Fyfe reveals battles with anxiety and depression. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Nat Fyfe has revealed his extended run with injuries led to anxiety, depression and “the most profound experience of my adult life”.
Fyfe, who stood down from the Fremantle captaincy earlier this week, said he is continuing to work on his mental health and credited a trip to California last year with helping turn the corner.
“It was probably the most profound experience of my adult life,” Fyfe told Summer ABC Grandstand. “What was happening on the outside with injuries was just a small reflection of what was going on on the inside in terms of I had a fair bit to deal with.
“I had a good look at some of the ailments which we all face as humans in life in terms of anxiety and depression and a bunch of those internal emotional things that then came out as injuries. I had the shoulder that failed, then I got an infection, then I did my back, then I did multiple hamstrings.
“Internally, I was cooked and I was just fighting my way through it and I just kept breaking down. That space was the most profound teaching environment. If you can go through that and find resilience out of it and come out the other side, I feel like that is the juice I now need for the back end of my career.
Nat Fyfe has opened up on how his injury battles affected him. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images
"Past accolades were getting stale. There are only so many times that you can parrot that you are a two time Brownlow Medallist from years ago. They were starting to get stale and I had no juice and motivation out of them.
“A good hard look at rock bottom has fired me back up again.”
Fyfe, 31, played just seven games last season and has averaged less than 14 games-per-year over his last seven campaigns with Fremantle.
He said he suffered substantial weight loss at his nadir last year and is still coming to terms with his injury-related body transformation.
“I was a 95 kilogram midfielder and in 2021 when I was playing with a crook shoulder I started to lose the weight,” he said. “And by the time I had the second operation and the infection I was down to about 86 or 87 kilograms – the best part of 10 kilograms is what I lost.
‘I could just see all of the bones in my skeleton. I shaved my head because I couldn’t reach up and tie my hair up any more. It was pretty grim.
“I still, when I look in the mirror to see the old me, I can’t quite relate to this new person. And when I was in that position I still had a fair way to go in terms of trying to figure things out and get that internal energy system going again. It was tough.”
Regarded as one of the league’s premier midfielders over his 209 senior games, Fyfe is now attempting a late-career move forward.
He said the move was proving as mentally challenging as it was technical and physical.
“Father time is undefeated,” he said. “[My body] started to not be able to handle those loads anymore so I had to figure out a way and I am figuring out a way to evolve.
Fyfe is now preparing for a new battle up forward. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
“It was working out how to connect with your training at the time when you can’t get the absolute most out of it and let go of the guilt that comes with not being able to train. I am on a journey with that.”
He continued: “Kicking and screaming the universe has dragged me into that next phase where I am now a forward. I was stuck for a while there still trying to be what I was. We all cling to our past at times.
“I now feel like I am open that I have got that beginner mindset again. I am ready to learn of anyone and everyone that can teach me something. Jye Amiss is teaching me something about goal kicking at the moment – a second-year player.
“Cerebral is the right word. Overthink is another way of putting it. It is a great strength when I get it all lined up but it can tear me apart when it doesn’t quite work. It is kind of what happened with my goal kicking.”
Fyfe said the work he was undertaking on his goal kicking and mentality were intertwined.
“I am working with a couple of people more around connecting with that inner voice fear, the stress, and getting a good handle on how you can put yourself in the optimal mindset and position where you can take the shot,” he said.
“There are a couple of spooky things I am doing at the moment in the quantum field which hopefully in another 12 months we can come back to as well. Once I see the uptick then off it goes like a freight train. I am just starting to see it starting to come to life.”
Fyfe revealed Covid-19 restrictions, combined with his mental and physical challenges, resulted in him feeling like “a caged rat for three years”.
He left Australia for a solo surfing trip and, after a conversation with Travis Boak, headed to Santa Cruz, California to work with a trainer, where he was later joined by Andrew Brayshaw.
“What we get prescribed at clubland is quite a general palate to get you through an AFL season,” Fyfe said. “Working one-on-one with someone every day for two weeks to look at how you move and how to move more efficiently was epic.”
Fyfe said he is comfortable with how the captaincy transition is playing out at Fremantle.
“If they are handled poorly it can signal disruption,” he said. “If they are handled well I think you can get momentum. We wanted to make sure that this worked for the club, this worked for me and we had strong alignment.
“The willingness to continually learn and not be afraid to make mistakes and fail: that is the big thing about leadership. To embody and live it and learn from experience is the biggest element that I have found.
“That growth, particularly when you are the captain of a footy club, comes under a lot of scrutiny. If you don’t have that inner drive to walk your own path and develop as you go it can get quite overwhelming. I will be here to support whoever our next captain is and I hope that is what they find in their journey.”